‘Good Morning America’ Poised to Win First Season in 19 Years

By Merrill Knox 

The last time “Good Morning America” won a full TV season, “Fraiser” and “Picket Fences” were the top TV programs, Andre Agassi was the U.S. Open champion, and just-married Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley shared a kiss at the MTV Awards.

That was Sept. 1994. Charlie Gibson, Joan Lunden and Spencer Christian presided over “Good Morning America” from an Anywhere, USA living room set at ABC’s uptown studio.

These days the ABC breakfast show overlooks raucous Times Square, an outer reflection of the show’s inner energy. Gibson, Lunden, and Christian have been replaced by a cast of five: Robin Roberts, George Stephanopoulos, Josh Elliott, Sam Champion and Lara Spencer.

They chat and tease each other mercilessly through commercial breaks, so much so that it’s often not clear whether they’re on the air or not. During down moments in between segments, they shuffle through upcoming scripts, respond to tweets and mingle with guests and fans, some of whom are invited in from outside.

The anchors deflect questions about the ratings race by saying something obvious to anyone watching at home, or visiting behind the scenes, as TVNewser did Tuesday morning: we don’t think about that, because we’re just having so much fun. What’s not said is just how much the two go hand-in-hand.

With the final ratings to be released tomorrow, “Good Morning America” is poised to win its first full TV season since 1993-1994 in total viewers and the first since 1992-1993 in the A25-54 demo. And “GMA” continues to enjoy its largest season lead over “Today” in more than 21 years, since before Nielsen’s electronic database started in 1991. Season-to-date, “GMA” leads NBC’s “Today” show by +679,000 total viewers and +86,000 demo viewers. “Today” had a lock on American mornings for more than 16 years.

“We know our competition is strong and bringing it every day,” senior executive producer Tom Cibrowski told TVNewser. “We will never stop playing from behind and every day is a new battle. We know we cannot blink and we welcome the daily fight.”

By all accounts, and with Roberts “the healthiest she’s been after everything she’s been through,” according to Cibrowski, this group is just getting started. Stephanopoulos told TVNewser he constantly thinks of ABC News president Ben Sherwood’s advice to the “GMA” team: play your game.

On the day we visited, “GMA'”s game included a spirited competition between Champion, Elliott and Spencer over who could find the best viral video (at the top of the 8 a.m. hour, Spencer appeared to win when she aired pictures of a sign at a Florida veterinary hospital that read “Neutering your pets makes them less nuts,” prompting Stephanopoulos to quickly change the topic amid loud laughter in the studio). The anchors pondered Burger King’s new “Satisfries” and danced along as Kings of Leon performed above the giant marquee that graces ABC’s Times Square Studios.

“Our gang is so incredibly excited to start the morning every day – it shows on the air and off.  They are friends on and off camera,” Cibrowski said. “Robin, George, Josh, Lara and Sam each bring something special to the table and honestly enjoy putting on the best possible show every morning.”

The liveliness of “GMA,” both on and off the air, is clearly the current that propels the show forward. Even Stephanopoulos, who puts in six-day weeks as moderator of “This Week,” responds with enthusiasm that this is just the beginning: “I’ll keep doing this as long as I can,” he says.

More pictures from behind the scenes of Tuesday’s show are below.